Reflection on the Sermon on the Plain, irony and BP.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God….. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Luke 6:20,24, NRSV.
”The first female Commissioner, Cressida Dick, has been brought down partly by anti-women behaviour and the anti-women crime of officers within her own force… The Met investigates the Government as the Government picks a new Met Commissioner.” James Reynolds, on the resignation of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
Some years ago, the controversial Monty Python film ‘Life of Brian’ depicted the scene in which Jesus goes up a mountain side to teach the crowds following him. There are so many people that those on the edge can’t hear and they ask what Jesus is saying. As the message is passed back, it becomes distorted and “Blessed are the peacemakers” eventually reaches those at the back as “Blessed are the cheesemakers.”
This scene is based on Chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel, which is part of the Sermon on the Mount, but today’s Gospel is taken from Luke’s similar account which is often called the Sermon on the Plain. Rather than preaching remotely above them, Luke’s Jesus is accessible to the crowds, meeting and healing them. The people have come from different places and some will also be there just out of curiosity with others present to jeer. In this series of sayings which are known as the Beatitudes or the attitudes about being, Matthew refers only to blessings whereas Luke mentions woes, too. He depicts Jesus contrasting the poor and rich, the hungry and the full, those who weep and laugh as well as those who are hated or praised. That still applies today.
One of these in particular has a real irony currently: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God – woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Today, many are struggling with the cost of living, with housing equity also having risen by £900 billion since the pandemic began. Some are having to choose between heating and eating, whilst Shell announced profits of £14.3 billion and BP of £5.6 billion in providing the fuel which so many can’t afford. Do the poor in that situation feel blessed? Shareholders in BP will receive at least a billion pounds in dividends – are they woeful? How can being poor be a blessing when it can be so degrading and why is being rich a woe when money can also do good? Other ironies, such as what’s happening with the resignation of Dame Cressida Dick and the Metropolitan Police’s investigation of those who will be involved in appointing her successor and may have broken the law, also resonate powerfully with Jesus’ words. Do they feel blessed in being humiliated?
Jesus is telling those who will listen to him that worldly values are not necessarily those of the kingdom of heaven and that the poor and hungry, the broken-hearted and reviled are close to God’s heart. Perhaps the blessing in it is that those who have nothing else in life have to trust in God and his promises whereas those who have much don’t need to rely on him. It’s a way of life that may seem strange but is part of the Kingdom values on which Jesus based his own life – that broken figure on the cross not only showed Jesus’ own commitment to God’s promises but also to their later fulfilment on Easter Day.
The word blessed is related to the French ‘blessée’ meaning wound and there are times for all of us when we are wounded and wrestle with the challenge of finding healing. This Septuagesima Sunday, as Lent begins to draw near, if we or those around us are hurting, if life doesn’t seem to add up or contrasts are great, then in seeking the blessing that perhaps we’ve not considered, could we find ourselves closer to the Kingdom of Heaven than we realise?
With my prayers; pob bendith,